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Senior Citizens Raise Questions About Cable TV Pricing

Told only discounts available are for those eligible for the state P.A.A.D. program

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Comcast’s Bob Clifton talks to the Township Council during the cable franchise agreement public hearing.

Township senior citizens looking for a break on their cable television bills got some relief at the June 24 cable franchise agreement public hearing.

Bob Clifton of Comcast Cable, told the seniors that the only discount the company is legally allowed to give is 10 percent to those eligible for the state Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled (P.A.A.D.) program.

“Anything else would be considered discriminatory pricing,” he said. “We have to follow what the state has mandated.”

The public hearing is one of the last steps before Comcast’s cable franchise in the township is renewed. The process started three years ago.

Although one resident asked the council to not approve the renewal, township attorney Louis Rainone said that action was not under the township’s purview.

The only thing the council can do regarding Comcast, he said, “is basically make sure the system they promised would be built out is built out and that it is maintained.”

The council’s approval simply grants Comcast the right-of-way to bury its cables within Franklin borders.

He said the council has no say over pricing or what programming Comcast offers.

The franchise agreement is not exclusive, but no other cable provider has asked for a similar agreement.

Rainone said there are some private community within the township, locate don private roads, that are not covered by the franchise agreement. Those communities, he said, work out their own deals with the cable company.

Aside from pricing, Clifton also had to answer questions about the company’s response to natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Deputy Mayor Brian Regan told Clifton that the communication level the township received from Comcast “was not on the level we would shave expected from a company as large as yours.”

Regan asked Clifton what lessons Comcast learned from that disaster, and how the company is addressing any problems it saw.

Clifton said Comcast’s main problem was that the power companies with which it deals did not communicate well with them. He said the cable lines are the lowest on the utility poles, so they were the last to be replaced.

The problem was, he said, that Comcast didn’t always know when a pole was replaced.

In the future, he said, Comcast crews will follow power company crews so the cable lines can be put up as soon as possible.

The company is also participating in more statewide emergency management communication groups, Clifton said.

“All power and communication companies are meeting regularly now,” he said.

“We absolutely learned a lot from Sandy,” Clifton said.

Ruth Chavis, president of the Parkside Tenants Association, told Clifton that her members want the company to offer reduced rates to seniors and also improve its customer service.

Clifton said he would provide the necessary discount forms to township manager Robert Vornlocker.

Parkside resident Dolores Small asked why her cable bill’s rate fluctuates, when she has the same basic cable package.

Clifton said that cable bills change depending upon what the company is charged by the networks from which it purchases programming.

“There is a yearly rate increase because he prices for programming go up,” he said.

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